The Government Inspector – telling a different story

Watching The Government Inspector at the REP brought into stark relief for me why I am so excited about Ramps on the Moon.

Yes, it is a really high quality show. For what it’s worth, my view is that it is a brilliant translation of Gogol’s original which has been (as far as I could tell) also effectively translated into BSL; the set is fabulous, with its comedy lift and references to a communism-tinged Art Deco style; the ensemble set movement pieces are tight and effective; and the performances are, without exception, wonderful.

But there was something more and I’ve been wrestling since Wednesday with trying to capture the feelings I had whilst watching it, trying to get a sense of what it is that gives me… hope, that’s what it gives me.

And as I noticed where my rambling thoughts were leading me, it began to take shape.

One review referred to disability being “irrelevant” in the show and I profoundly disagree. Disability is not irrelevant, it is not swept under the carpet and ignored. We are absolutely not being asked to forget that some of the characters are Deaf or disabled. We are asked simply to believe in the world of The Government Inspector: a small town in which Deaf and disabled people rub along with hearing and non-disabled people. Where the Mayor can tip someone out of their wheelchair and it is barbaric, yes, but no more barbaric than if he had punched a non-disabled person on the nose. Where a Deaf person speaking with a recognisably ‘deaf voice’ can accuse a hearing person of having a ‘speech impediment’ and for us to be allowed to laugh without barb. Where a visibly disabled woman can be a vamp, a ridiculously effete narcissist whose sex appeal we nonetheless believe in. Where a young woman of marriageable age, also visibly disabled, can be coquettish and petulant whilst also being delightfully naïve without being infantilised.

The problem with the rhetoric of disability being ‘irrelevant’ (how often have I had well-meaning people say to me, ‘but I never think of you as disabled’…) is that it ignores the day to day reality of being disabled and it perpetuates the story that disability is something to be overcome, defused, sent into the shadows.

The world of The Government Inspector is a world where Deaf and disabled people are neither special nor vulnerable, are not canonised or vilified, disregarded or treated with kid gloves. In The Government Inspector, we see the possibility of a world where Deaf, disabled, hearing, non-disabled co-exist. Requirements are met, communication is facilitated and people just get on with their complicated, corrupt, ordinary, ridiculous lives.

That is an exceedingly rare portrayal, and it is profoundly hopeful insofar as it presents possibilities for our industry and far beyond. One of my favourite TED talks is by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and is called, “The Danger of a Single Story” – look it up. She says, “that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”

The Government Inspector, and the whole Ramps on the Moon project, brings a multiplicity of stories about Deaf and disabled people onto our stages and into people’s consciousness. And that’s more radical than you might think.

Michele Taylor Ltd

From the beginnings of Ramps on the Moon, we have been talking about changing the world. After Wednesday night, I believe we just might.

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